Friday, March 11, 2016


One of the questions I’m asked most frequently at book signings and random cocktail parties when people find out I’m a writer is, “Where do you come up with all those names?”

This question arises even before people find out I write SFR. Then they’re really amazed. Planets! Tech-y gadgets! Alien characters! And, even better, alien cuss words!

Believe it or not, there are name generators out there that writers can use to make the job of naming their characters and places easier. There are language helpers, too. As the series gets more complicated I may have to resort to using them. But for now I prefer to struggle along with an ear for what sounds right, somehow, and a set of rules for the use of vowels and consonants in my particular alien languages of Minertsan and Thrane (with a little Ninoctin thrown in).

I hear the words and names I make up pretty consistently in my head as I write, and later as I read through endless drafts. When called upon to read a passage in public, I don’t stumble over the name Ren Sennik or the curse shalssiti pultafa!  One reason for this is that I’ve made the words easy to pronounce in the first place, so my readers won’t stumble as they read. Of course this means all the aliens in my Interstellar Rescue universe are unrealistically Earth-like in terms of language. Galactic Standard, the common trade language of the galaxy, is an awful lot like English, too. Also not realistic. But very easy for my readers, who usually are not fluent in any actual alien languages, or even in any exotic Earth languages, like Turkish or Thai or Finnish.

I also hear the voices of my characters quite clearly in my head. I describe their voices at times; even more, I create a living image of each character through dialogue and movement that makes him or her distinct. That way I hope to give my readers the opportunity to see and hear those characters for themselves.

But it’s a different sort of challenge to describe these characters so a voice actor can give them life in the audio version of a book. The Audible version of Unchained Memory was released recently, performed by the wonderful Lisa Beacom, and it was a thrill for me to hear her interpretations of Asia and Ethan, Dozen, Claussen, Rita, Ida and Sam. Before we began production, I had to give Lisa a “Bible,” describing how each of these characters sounded—Asia’s Tennessee accent, Ethan’s calm and comforting low baritone, Claussen’s patronizing tone, Rita’s big and brassy Music City voice and so on. That she captured all the nuances of character in these voices is a tribute to Lisa’s considerable skill.

Now we’re working on Trouble in Mind, with its loads of alien characters and words. We have another Nashville heroine whose accent is very different from Asia’s due to her professional job and background. Then, of course, there is Gabriel, who is, well, half-Cuban, half-Thrane. Try figuring out how he sounds! (Sexy, is all I know, but I have to be a little more specific than that.)

As writers we may not often think of the impact of our words on the ears of our readers (though we are often advised to read our drafts out loud to catch their flaws). As fully sighted readers we may not think to experience our favorite books with our ears (and imaginations) alone. But, think about it, hearing books is how we all first started to love words as children. In the days before radio, movies and television, books were read out loud as family entertainment. The sound of the human voice, reading a well-written passage, is transporting in some primal way, reminding us of ancient campfires under star-strewn skies, and the storytellers who once held us in thrall.

 The ever-faithful Riley Moreland is the winner of the FREE AUDIO BOOK copy of Unchained Memory from last week's giveaway. Email me, Riley, and we'll work out the details of claiming your gift.



  1. Love this post Donna! (Especially the part after 'WINNER!!' - but even before that.)

    As for languages in SciFi, when I am reading stories in which humans and aliens intermix, I like to imagine I am reading an English translation of what ever intergalactic standard language is being spoken. The best authors manage that translation with ease. No sense in getting hung up on what is realistic. Fiction is about suspending disbelief, and I like to think I am pretty good at it.

    E-mail coming your way. Thanks Donna!

    1. Congratulations, again, Riley! Like you, I do think fiction, and particularly, science fiction, asks readers to go along on that magic carpet ride with the author, willingly giving up our notions of what is "real." After all, there is "no such thing" as an interstellar drive of any kind--for us, now, in this reality. But we can envision one, just as I can envision aliens speaking "Galactic Standard." :)

  2. I remember seeing someone complain that she hated names with apostrophes in them, something I'm guilty of. But then, I grew up reading McCaffrey's dragon books with F'lar and F'lon, so I guess it came as second nature to me... I've used a fair bit of Esperanto in some of my books, but if I make up a language I often borrow from other languages and just tweak them. For names a favourite trick is taking an ordinary name and just changing one letter, like Fiona to Jiona.

    1. Fabulous post, Donna. With the advent of audio, authors now need to start considering how words sounds as well as how they read. The tip to read your words aloud now carries more weight than ever.

      I'm guilty of names with apostrophes too, but in the case of Draxis (soon to be retitled), the hero's name is Alii'us and in his language the 'us means "Of the" when placed after the subject. Alii means Lion, so his name means Of The Lion. (The heroine nicknames him Lee.)

      I don't mind apostrophes in names or words, as long as the words themselves are pronounceable. I cringe when I see something like Xiz'ophanusfal (I made that up) in a novel. That's sure to make a reader stumble every time and I doubt an audio narrator could say it with a straight face. The beauty of F'lar and F'lon is that they're simple and easy to pronounce.


Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.